Tuesday, July 23, 2013
THE X FROM OUTER SPACE
While I was attending Monster Bash 2013, I entered a monster movie trivia contest hosted by film historian Tom Weaver. I got 7 out of 8 right, but someone got 8 out of 8, so he got first prize. But it turned out okay, because the first-place winner got a bunch of DVDs that I already owned, and I got a box set of obscure Japanese horror movies released by Criterion's Eclipse line.
I had never seen any of these movies....heck, I had never even heard of the Shochiku motion picture company. I had heard of Toho, of course, because of all their monster movies and their connection with Akira Kirosawa, and I had heard of Daiei, the studio that made the Gamera series.
The first movie I chose to watch was THE X FROM OUTER SPACE. This is a kaiju (giant monster) film, obviously influenced by the likes of Godzilla and Gamera....but it's a very pallid imitation of those creatures.
A space center based near Mt. Fuji is preparing for another mission--despite the fact that all recent attempts have failed. Nevertheless the ship takes off, and soon the crew has to deal with a UFO that one member calls "a half-cooked omelet!" (I think it looks like a flying pot pie.) Strange spores begin to accumulate outside the Earth ship, and the crew takes a sample back home. The sample looks like a rock....but it soon begins to grow into what can only be described as a giant goofy space chicken.
Now, I've seen a ton of monster movies in my time, and I've seen all sorts of silly monsters, but Guilala (as the space chicken is called) beats them all. The picture at the start of this blog can only scratch the surface when it comes to explaining the visual aspect of this monster. Seeing a photo is one thing--watching Guilala in action is quite another. What makes it worse is that whoever is "portraying" Guilala has the suit-acting ability of your drunken cousin wearing a costume at a family birthday party.
Why exactly the spore grows into Guilala, or why it is what it is, never gets adequately explained. Most of the monsters in the Toho kaiju series had some sort of connection with other animals, or Earth ecology (however tenuous that connection may have been). Guilala has no real connection with anything, so even if it did look better, the viewer wouldn't have any real feelings towards it. It's just dumb and goofy (it even acts dumb and goofy). He/She/It has to be one of the worst cinema monsters of all time, ranking right up there with the buzzard from THE GIANT CLAW and some of Gamera's freakiest foes. (And what kind of name is Guilala, anyway? It sounds like an Italian automobile.)
Usually I can just about except anything in an old monster movie, but THE X FROM OUTER SPACE offers nothing to offset the wacky creature. The movie takes forever to get going...all the scenes in the first part of the film are shot as generically as possible. The one thing you can say about Ishiro Honda's many Toho kaiju films is that they moved, and something was always going on. Even the Gamera movies, bizarre as they were, had things happening in them.
Once Guilala gets loose, we get the typical scenes of giant monster destruction, but they are handled as blandly as possible. The special effects for X are nowhere near the quality of Eiji Tsuburaya's finely detailed work for Toho. There's the typical scenes of crowds running away, the typical scenes of various officials and military types discussing what to do....but there's no excitement, there's no rhythm. It's strictly by-the-numbers film making.
And then there's the film's soundtrack, which sounds like a cross between 60s lounge music and the score to a kids' TV show. Once again, I have to go back to Toho. Akira Ifukube's majestic scores for the Toho kaiju series gave those films a powerful background. The music for X just gives you a smirk on your face.
And the grand climax? Jet fighters bomb the monster with a substance called "Guilalaium" (apparently it works like Kryptonite). This results in the creature looking like it's entirely covered in shaving cream. Guilala then shrinks down to it's original rock-like form, and it is then shot into outer space.
As mentioned before, I tend to cut most old monster movies a lot of slack. But it's hard to give THE X FROM OUTER SPACE credit for anything. If the movie went even further in the wacko category--like the Gamera series wound up doing--at least there would be something going on, something to react to. The only out-of-the-box quality X has is the character of a hot, blonde female American crew member, who spends most of her time acting like a typical damsel in distress.
I'm sure some of you would say that all kaiju movies are the same, so what's the big deal? Well, there is a difference between a decent kaiju film and a poor one. THE X FROM OUTER SPACE is the ultimate example of what happens when film makers try to imitate another company's product or genre.
Because this is a Criterion product, the sound & visual quality are excellent for a 1967 foreign film. The movie can be viewed with subtitles or an English-dubbed soundtrack. The only extra is a small booklet which discusses the history of Shochiku Films, and gives some background on THE X FROM OUTER SPACE.